Australian government moves to deport North Korean defector after drug offences

Australian government moves to deport North Korean defector after drug offences

Lee Park* fled North Korea under threat of execution for speaking out against the totalitarian regime when he was just 18. He found his way to Australia and admits he has since done ‘a lot of bad things’, including being found guilty of serious drug offences.

He said he is reformed, and the guilt of leaving a family behind, never to be seen again, led to a spiral of depression, and, ultimately jail.

However, the government revoked a protection visa under section 501 of the Migration Act on May 17 last year while he served a six-year sentence in a Sydney prison for drug supply.

Since Park’s release from prison on parole, he has spent 10 months in immigration detention, six of those on Christmas Island.

Under the Act, a non-citizen’s visa must be cancelled on character grounds if they are imprisoned full-time for an offence committed in Australia, but that decision can be overturned at the Minister of Home Affair’s discretion.

A delegate of the minister declined to revoke the decision in July, despite acknowledging Park had reasonable expectation of facing “imprisonment or execution against the government of the day were he to return to North Korea”.

The 51-year-old has not seen or spoken to his family since he fled North Korea in 1987.

In an Australian Administrative Tribunal (AAT) hearing last week, Park’s lawyer argued for leniency as his client’s criminality – which has ultimately cost him his place in Australia – had been influenced by festering guilt about abandoning his family, the loss of an unborn child and drug addiction.

This is his story.

Leaving North Korea

Park said he was living in poverty with his mother, father and brother when he was told by an older sibling he had been reported for speaking out against the North Korean government.

The 18-year-old made a throwaway comment about the “hard physical labor” expected of him at his factory job – an act seen as defiance against the oppressive regime.

Park had seen others taken by the state and knew there could be consequences.

“Just complaining cost me my life,” he told nine.com.au.

His brother took a risk telling him he faced punishment.

“In that moment I knew it was very, very serious and I would have to get out. My brother told me to leave.”

With no time to say goodbye to his parents, Park fled to China.

Park paused and tears welled in his eyes as he explained he had no idea in that moment he would never see or hear from his family again.

“I know nothing at all of my family,” Park said.

His brother took a risk telling him he faced punishment.

“In that moment I knew it was very, very serious and I would have to get out. My brother told me to leave.”

With no time to say goodbye to his parents, Park fled to China.

Park paused and tears welled in his eyes as he explained he had no idea in that moment he would never see or hear from his family again.

“I know nothing at all of my family,” Park said.

A new life still haunted by the old

The ship Park chose was destined for Australia. The captain – who happened to be Korean – bought him a ticket to Brisbane.

He was eventually discovered by authorities and briefly detained in an immigration centre before being granted a temporary protection visa.

Park had seen the loved ones of other defectors face punishment and said the guilt of not knowing if his own brother was tortured or killed for giving him the chance of another life weighed on him heavily.

He said the best chance of finding out his family’s fate was to go overseas but his visa bound him to Australia.

A new life still haunted by the old

The ship Park chose was destined for Australia. The captain – who happened to be Korean – bought him a ticket to Brisbane.

He was eventually discovered by authorities and briefly detained in an immigration centre before being granted a temporary protection visa.

Park had seen the loved ones of other defectors face punishment and said the guilt of not knowing if his own brother was tortured or killed for giving him the chance of another life weighed on him heavily.

He said the best chance of finding out his family’s fate was to go overseas but his visa bound him to Australia.

A new life still haunted by the old

The ship Park chose was destined for Australia. The captain – who happened to be Korean – bought him a ticket to Brisbane.

He was eventually discovered by authorities and briefly detained in an immigration centre before being granted a temporary protection visa.

Park had seen the loved ones of other defectors face punishment and said the guilt of not knowing if his own brother was tortured or killed for giving him the chance of another life weighed on him heavily.

He said the best chance of finding out his family’s fate was to go overseas but his visa bound him to Australia.

“When I went all the police were already there.”

Park was sentenced to two years and three months jail for drug supply in August 2008 and spent 15 months behind bars.

When he left prison the thought of his relatives still pained him.

He longed to have a family of his own and when his fiancée fell pregnant he thought his dreams may come true.

“Unfortunately we had a miscarriage. That one hurt me a lot,” Park said:

“It is important to have children [in my culture]. I can’t see my family, my parents, so I at least wanted to have kids for them.”

Park said if he doesn’t have children he wouldn’t be able to see his ancestors in the afterlife, which he feels is the only chance of reuniting with his lost family.

“We really believe in that,” he said.

“Sometimes I think if I go to sleep I will never wake up. When I go to sleep, I don’t know if I want to wake up.”

Park had tried to go to a doctor to work through his mental anguish but he found it hard to open up.

“I was just so tired so later on I just start taking drugs to sleep.”

He spiraled into addiction and started dealing to sustain his habit.

Park was later found with 385.3 grams of methylamphetamine and over $35,000 linked to dealing.

In June 2015, he was sentenced to six years’ jail and advised his visa would be cancelled.

Fresh start 

Despite being given little hope of staying in Australia, Park said he wanted to turn his life around.

He accepted he had to stop holding out hope of finding his family and move forward.

“This time in jail I stopped looking for them. I had to. If I keep thinking this way [about my family] it makes my life very hard… I just let it go.”

A doctor who assessed Park before sentencing told the District Court of New South Wales he had “rapidly overcome” his reliance on drugs and tried to positively engage in his rehabilitation by working and undertaking educational programs, which included leaving jail unsupervised to go to TAFE.

He gave no positive drug test results while in the community.

The North Korean tried to seek drug rehabilitation in prison but was not considered high enough risk to be accepted.

‘People say they are inhumane but I will not say that’.

Park’s lawyer told the AAT he is at a high risk of being imprisoned or potentially executed if returned to North Korea during a hearing considering his visa cancellation last week.

Australian National University researcher in Korean Studies and North Korean expert Leonid Petrov said a forcible return would be considered a “heinous crime against humanity”.

“They would be seen as criminals and treated as criminals,” Dr Petrov told nine.com.au.

“If Australia is doing so it would be very sad because that is what China and Russia are criticised for.”

Park did not want to describe how people were punished in North Korea.

“I try to forget a lot of things,” he said.

“It is my home country. It gave me life. My mother and father are from there,” Park said.

“But I don’t feel I have a place there because I don’t have my family there.”

A 2014 United Nation Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea documented cases of people being sent to prison camps for alleged anti-state offences.

Inside they, along with relatives rounded up to face collective punishment, reportedly face beatings, rape, murder and torture by guards.

A 2014 United Nation Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea documented cases of people being sent to prison camps for alleged anti-state offences.

Inside they, along with relatives rounded up to face collective punishment, reportedly face beatings, rape, murder and torture by guards.

Mr. Jason Donnelly appeared for the applicant in these proceedings.

See further https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/10/04/17/39/australia-revokes-visa-north-korean-man-fled-under-threat-of-execution-drug-supply 

*name changed for legal reasons

© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2018

By Belinda Grant Geary

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